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Japan Spirit and Form - The Rimpa School

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What a good timing! This documentary on the Rimpa school that I recently came across, makes a nice follow up to my previous post abut Rimpa inspired ikebana. The video gives an introduction to the style and show the most iconic Rimpa paintings. It also discusses how the Rimpa style, with its stylized and simplified forms of nature, fascinated people in the West after Japan was opened up to the rest of the world. It's interesting to see how this Japanese school of art had a great influence on the new Art Nouveau style, coming up in Paris around the turn of the century.

“The Rimpa School Crosses the Ocean” is the fifth episode of the 1989 NHK series, “Japan: Spirit and Form”. If you have the time there is a lot to learn by watching the whole series:
#1 “Form at the Beginning” - Ceramics from the Jomon period
#2 “The Meeting of the Gods and Buddha” - The relationship between Shintoism and Buddhism
#3 Discovery of the “Pure Land” - The Kamakura Period of Japanese history
#4 Japanese Ink Painting: Landscapes of the Mind


Come Dance With Me!

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Japanese Fantail Willow, Amaryllis, Aspedistra.

Working with ikebana makes you see branches and flowers in ways you have never seen them before. Some branches are really straight, but most of them have more or less bends and curves. Thats why they change so much when you turn them around and look at them from different angles.

Hanamai, or dancing flowers, is a relatively new style of ikebana that has gained great popularity since it was created in 1985 by Natsuki Ohara, the forth master of the Ohara school of ikebana. Although it is one of the characteristic styles of the Ohara school, hanamai ikebana is loved and practiced by ikebanists from many different schools today.

Amaryllis, Aspedistra, Sibirian Dogwood.

The idea is to use the movement of the lines of the materials and create a dynamic energy in-between them. Most often coming up from two or three vases branches, leaves and flowers lean together, almost touching as if they are saying "Come dance with me!".


Tea Whisk in a Bowl

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Pin cushion flower, Aspedistra.
Wood fired ceramic bowl by Michiko Takahashi Nilsen.

This autumn I've started studying Japanese tea ceremony. So far I've only gotten to a brief understanding of the structure of the Chakai, tea gathering, and practicing the preparations. As with ikebana it is a study that lasts a lifetime. Through my ikebana studies I've learned quite a lot about the traditions and philosophy of the tea ceremony. Tea philosophy has influenced ikebana in the direction of simplified arrangements and a wabi-sabi esthetics.

Inspired by the shape of a Protea, Pin cushion flower, I made this simplified ikebana at home. The flower represents a chasen tea whisk placed on a folded linnen cloth, chakin, in the tea bowl. It's not placed in exactly the way a whisk would be, it merely represents the way the utensils are prepared before being carried in an presented to the guests.

This is not a chabana, a tea flower intended for the tea room, but rather a contemporary ikebana celebrating the care and hospitality inherited in the detailed preparations for a tea ceremony.


Christmas Colours

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Thuja and Carnations.
Combined arrangement - basic upright and variation no 3.

Ikebana for the Holiday season is often based on shiny materials with gold or silver and sometimes even Christmas ornaments or candles integrated in the design. More than other times of the year the focus is on decor and festivity.

It doesn't have to be over the top though. In the Nordic countries Christmas is also closely related to the snowy winter landscape and a more rustic esthetics based on natural materials with accents of the Christmas colours green and red.

If this is your preferred Christmas approach - why not choose one or two of the basic ikebana styles making a peaceful naturalistic Christmas ikebana for your home. In my example I have combined two styles into one arrangement to make it a bit more interesting. I've kept it all very simple, but you can of course ad some Babies breath or other white flowers if you want it even more Christmassy. Remember not to over crowd, but keep a lot of open space and a harmonious flow in the materials.

Party Flowers

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Red bamboo sticks, gold painted Aspidistra,
Phalaenopsis, Snowberry, Thuja.

I learned earlier this year that Orchids and other exotic flowers are often used in Christmas and New Years ikebana to accentuate the festivity and special quality of the Holidays. From that point of view flowers that are not use every day are appropriate.

Orchids are really expensive and not commonly seen in bouquets in Norway. The exception would be at weddings. So cutting just one stem of Phalaenopsis is already more than most people would do at home. But Christmas comes but once a year - I'll give you the Orchid stem and some gold painted leaves echoing the shape of the vase to cheer you up. The vase is a Danish 1960s glass vase named Carnaby. A true mid-century modern collectible designed by Per Lutken for Holmegaard glassworks. Put on the party music!

Blue Christmas Greetings!

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Apple tree branches, Japanese washi paper and Christmas paper,
Poinsettia, Blue spruce.

With Christmas just around the corner I would like to thank you for reading this blog, whether it's your first time or you are a frequent visitor. A special thanks goes to those of you who are commenting on the blog posts or keeping in touch in other ways. This communication means a lot to me. I hope you enjoy this years Christmas greeting from Nordic Lotus - this time in a blue colour scheme. Inspired by gift wrapping and the frosty magic of a Christmas night, I've used Japanese waxed washi paper to create an interesting form around the branches.

Wishing you a Joyous Holiday Season and a New Year filled with Peace and Happiness!

メリークリスマス!明けましておめでとう!


Thoughtful Travel

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Rocks, pine, moss, sand and metal figure.
Landscape morimono ikebana.

New Year is a time for celebration but also for thoughtfulness. Summing up the year that is over - the good and the bad. And reaching for the unknown with wishes and goals for the year to come. The circle is complete and starts again.

New Year is a celebration with very rich traditions when it comes to ikebana. Traditional materials with deep symbolic meaning are used, again and again every year. Although it could be interesting to look more into those traditions I've chosen a totally different theme for this New Years greeting.

Suiseki is a japanese tradition of collecting rocks and stones with special shapes and character, often resembling dramatic mountains in miniature. These rocks are appreciated as art objects, treasured and exhibited. They are also used in bonsai and bonseki (sand landscapes on black lacquer trays). Suiseki are sometimes also used in a special form of landscape ikebana, combining rocks with plant materials and small figures in this unusual category of morimono arrangement (morimono meaning "arranging things on something").

The little man traveling on his water buffalo, with high mountains hiding the next curve of the path, gives the landscape a quality of quiet thoughtfulness. Moving on he leaves some things behind. Is he thinking of the goal for this days trip or is he just enjoying the moment? New Year is a time for contemplation, a lonesome moment of thoughtful travel in-between the joyful toasts and glamourous celebrations.


Ikebana + Crafts = True

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Welcome to exhibition opening tomorrow, Saturday January 10th, at Kunsthåndverkerne i Kongensgate Oslo.

I will be doing ikebana arrangements in contianers from the exhibition. The first week will be with wood fired ceramics by Michiko Takahashi Nilsen. The exhibition will be rearranged every Saturday. Januar 17th I will work with raku ceramics by Ragnhild Winsvold and Januar 24th will be with glass by Ina Kristine Hove. The exhibition also features textiles by Randi Hartmann.

Welcome!


Opening Demonstration

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The first part of the exhibition ikebana + crafts = TRUE at Kunsthåndverkerne i Kongensgate opened last Saturday. I held a small demonstration, made some ikebana and talked about the philosophy behind the arrangements. It was a great experience to work with the wood fired ceramics by Michiko Takahashi Nilsen and to meet with the people that came to see the exhibition of ceramics, glass and textile.

These photos are by my friend Brith Dybing who helped me with the documentation.






First Week of Ikebana + Crafts = TRUE

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Spruce, Snow berry, blue yarn, Chrysanthemum, Long leeved pine.
More than one container, curved lines, mass and line, untraditional materials.

The first week of the exhibition ikebana + crafts = TRUE is almost over. Each week will present one larger and three smaller sized arrangements. The first week I had the pleasure to work with wood fired ceramics by Michiko Takahashi Nilsen.

My Japanese friends felt that the large arrangement in the window was a bit like a New Years arrangement with its use of pine. Being at the very start of the year it was also my intention to hint to traditional arrangements without making it a proper New Years ikebana. I was also thinking about boats pulled up on the beach for the winter. It's the season of stillness.

Pine and Roses.
Basic slanting style moribana.

For the second arrangement I used a shallow bowl with grayish blue glaze on the inside for a basic slanting style ikebana, also with pine. It's always useful to include a basic style when explaining the philosophy behind the different elements of the arrangement.

Weeping Willow, Bergenia leaves, Chrysanthemum, Thuja.
Curved lines.

Moving on to a bowl with a more round shape. In this case the plant materials were chosen to enhance the shape of the bowl. Weeping Willow is also a material associated with New Year. Withered winter leaves help us to appreciate the season, while pink flowers add an accent and bring a promise of spring.

Alder branches and French tulip.
Hana-mai inspired arrangement with three vases.

In the last arrangement I wanted to use a group of new vases that were fired a couple of weeks ago. They have a fantastic glaze and the shape is good for just one flower or so. Keeping the interesting swirls in the glaze in mind, I decided to make a Hana-mai (dancing flowers) inspired arrangement.

Photo 1-3: Svein G Josefsen
Photo 4: Brith Dybing

2. Week of Ikebana + Crafts = TRUE

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Weeping willow, Juniper with lichen, moss, Thuja, Chrysanthemum.
Landscape morimono, curved lines.

The focus of the second week of the exhibition ikebana + crafts = TRUE is raku ceramics by Ragnhid Winsvold. In the ikebana works two new round raku fired objects are presented together with a large yellow vase. For the demonstration I used bowls with lids.

Thuja and Lisianthus.
Upright fan style, variation no 3.

For the first arrangement of the demonstration I had chosen an interesting low container with  distinct dark lines in the glaze with added white blossom shapes. Unfortunately the wonderful silverly inside didn't show that well since the lid had to cover most of the dish to balance. The shape inspired me to create a fan style upright ikebana, a variation of the basic upright style.

Appel branch, Gerbera, Bergenia leaves.
Naturalistic freestyle.

A yellow bowl with a round seed like shape was opened up so that the lid swung out to the side. This formed the base for an Apple tree branch with yellow lichen that gave shape to the arrangement. Colour and space was added with yellow Gerbera.

Weeping willow, Lisianthus, Thuja.
Simplified arrangement.

Raku ceramic is closely related to the Japanese tea ceremony. The earthy simplicity of the tea wabi tea tradition has also inspired the development of simplified arrangements in contemporary ikebana. For the last arrangement of the demonstration I created a very simple ikebana consisting of one single twig of Weeping willow and one stem of Lisianthus. A little piece of Thuja was added to emphasize the open space under the lid.


Photo: Svein G Josefsen

Last Week: Ikebana + Crafts = TRUE

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Freesia, aluminum wire mesh, Birch Witch's Broom, vases and objects with clipped glass.
Untraditional materials, mass and line.

Back home from the opening of the last week of the exhibition ikebana + crafts = TRUE i feel grateful and content. It has been great working with Kunsthåndverkerne i Kongensgate and an inspiration to meat people at the opening demonstrations these three weeks. The focus of the third week is glass works by Ina Kristine Hove. She has also an exhibition running at Buskerud Kunstsenter where you can see more of her works.

Japanese umbrella pine and Freesia, glass vase with plastic mesh.
Basic upright style.

Since glass has a totally different character than ceramics the feeling of the ikebana arrangements of this week have a more airy and fleeting feeling to them. The first arrangement is a traditional basic upright style demonstrating the philosophy of ikebana with three main branches. In this arrangement I also showed a bit of nageire (arrangement in a tall vase) techniques as a way of fixing the branches. The Japanese umbrella pine was chosen as a material that complements the red plastic mesh of the vase.

Cala lily, Liriope Muscari grass, Bergenia leaf, glass vase with colour stripe.
Focus on water, curved lines.

A glass vase with a yellow spiraling line made the starting point for the second arrangement, which is a more modern freestyle. The movements are below the surface in this arrangement focusing on the water as a life giving element and on the transparency of the glass. The curved lines and bright colours reveals a hidden life moving around under the surface, sometimes reflecting what is going on   in the world above.

Apple branches, Freesia, Cala lily.
Simplified arrangement, Hana kubari.

Simplified arrangements fascinate and attract peoples eyes. Maybe it's the escape from the many complex situations of life that gives a feeling of being able to breath freely. In the last arrangement I've worked with the contrast between one transparent and one opaque vase with clipped curves.  Apple branches are attached to the brim of the vases and works as hanakubari, flower holders. The Freesia and the Cala lily are reflecting the different characters of the vases.

View from outside the window.

Photo: Svein G Josefsen

Imaginary Gardens - Opening

Opening Photos - Imaginary Gardens

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Love Enqvist's solo exhibition Imaginary Gardens: Weeding and Watering opened in Varbergs Konsthall, Sweden, this weekend. The exhibition is curated by Frida Cornell and will run until April 26th.

The exhibition consists of works built on the concept of the garden. The garden is seen as an actual place or room, but also as a more spiritual, alternativ escape or playground for the self. Enqvist draws on inspiration from many sources, the Swedish scientist and mystic Swedenborg, Japanese ikebana techniques and political activism were gardening becomes an active act of protest.


If you visit the exhibition you can make your own seed bomb, a lump of clay and soil with a seed inside, to through around the city as an act of guerrilla gardening.


One wall is filled with the slogan Resistiance is fertile, another has a mixed media work with pages from Swedenborg's diary from 1752. Another mixed media collage work resembles a Persian rug with a garden of paradise motive. In another part of the room you're invited to sit down on a tatami mat and enjoy an ikebana installation. Since this is the part of the exhibition that I have contributed to, I'll show you more pictures from this installation in my next blog post.





Foto: Svein G. Josefsen

Ikebana Installation - Imaginary Gardens

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In my last blog post I shared some photos from Love Enqvist's solo exhibition Imaginary Gardens: Weeding and Watering in Varbergs Konsthall, Sweden.

One of the works is an ikebana installation where you're invited to sit down on a tatami mat for a moment of reflection or just enjoying the flowers. I've made two of the ikebana arrangements and assisted the artist on the rest of the work as an expert.

Ikebana installation, Love Enqvist with assistance from Lennart Persson.
Varbergs Konsthall January - April 2015.

Since the exhibition runs for almost three months I've used dried materials combined with a few long lasting Cymbidium orchids that can be easily exchanged when needed (probably no more than a couple of times during the exhibition). The arrangements builds on the dream of the ideal garden as something that is part of the actual gardening experience - a layer that lies behind as a longing.

Ikebana by Lennart Persson for Imaginary Gardens.
Dead wood, black painted Eucalyptus, dried Protea,
bleached Mitsumata, Cymbidium, bleached Fern.

Ikebana by Lennart Persson for Imaginary Gardens.
Lilac branch, Macedonian pine, Cymbidium.

In Love Enqvist's three arrangements the main focus is on his self made vases of different shapes and materials. The structure of the arrangements are based on the lines of branches and the  fleeting quality of blossoms.

Vased with painted plastic tube.
Willow and dried Hortensia.

Vase with old lamp glass and metal stand. Magnolia and Kris plant leaves.
Vase with coloured plastic and glass on concrete block. Quince, Wich hazel and Macedonian pine.



Photo: Svein G Josefsen

Winter Tabletop Arrangement

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Thuja and Freesia.
Moribana Horisontal style V.no. 6.
Front view.

Winter arrangements brings a certain atmosphere of peace and tranquility into the home. Flowers in pale, chilly colours and evergreen branch materials makes a nice understated contrast. When placed on a table the arrangement works best when it is not to high, so that it doesn't get in the way for a light conversation. I have made a horizontal arrangement where all the branches are placed at a low angel. In the Sogetsu curriculum this style is named Moribana horizontal style variation number 6.

Moribana Horisontal style V.no. 6.
Back view.

This kind of arrangement is meant to be seen from any position around the table. So it has to look good and have something interesting to it from all the angels. It mustn't be symmetrical or too pretty though. There needs to be a variation in the material so that every angel gives a different look at the landscape.

Moribana Horisontal style V.no. 6.
Side view.

Stay Green

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Macedonian pine, Japanese ambrella pine, Scots pine, Juniper, Tuja and Taxus.
Moribana, naturalistic freestyle, only branch materials, mass and line.

Evergreen trees have traditionally had a strong position in ikebana. Their sturdy character and the fact that they stay green even in the hardest winter brings a message of hope and stamina. Working with evergreen materials, you'll find that you're capable of making a full ikebana arrangement with local materials even in the winter time. You'll probably also be surprised by the calming effect of green materials and the confidence they inspire. 

Macedonian pine, Norwegian Spruce cones.
Mass and line, focus on cones, horizontal arrangement.

One of the most important things to learn in ikebana is to study the materials well and identify the different shapes and expressions in plants. Since contemporary ikebana often have a more abstract expression there are many possibilities to show these inherent qualities in the materials by contrasting them with each other. For example this is often done by contrasting mass and lines in the composition.

Needle trees, like Pine, also goes well with dried branches and makes a very poetic contrast when used together with fresh flowers. The tender quality of flowers that attracts our minds today and are gone tomorrow, is totally different from the long-lasting energy of the Pine. Together they make an even stronger expression.

Painted driftwood, Freesia and Macedonian pine.
Mass and lines, dried and fresh materials.

Reaching for the Skies

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Ornithogalum, Bear grass, Ornamental kale, Chrysanthemum.
Vertical arrangement. Naturalistic freestyle.

Ikebana arrangements are traditionally divided into two main categories: Arrangements with a strong upright growing form, and arrangements with a slanting more windswept design. These two groups are embodying different energies in plants as well as different ways of relating to the circumstances surrounding us.

The two categories of energy can also be expressed in freestyle ikebana. These two arrangements are examples of naturalistic designs stretching upwards, reaching for the skies.

Grass, Ornithogalum, Chrysanthemum, Bergenia leaf.
Vertical arrangement. Naturalistic freestyle.

The In-Between

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Life can be pretty crowded. To bring som clearness, enough space must be cleaned up to give room for the lines.

Lines are an important element in ikebana designs, from the oldest traditional styles to the contemporary. What is often forgotten is that it is equally important to put work into shaping the space in-between the lines. Open spaces are not empty but an element full of tension and energy.

Sofu Teshigahara, founder of the Sogetsu school once said:
"Ikebana is the art of space - the space between branches, the space between flowers and leaves and the space between masses. In other words, the space between the branches and flowers comes alive. This space is a plentiful void projecting tension and power."
Sibirian Dogwood, Amaryllis.
Showing lines at the base.

The arrangements in this blog post illustrates two lessons in the Sogetsu curriculum. The first exercise is showing lines at the base by allowing for a lot of open space and highlighting some lines that you find interesting. The space in-between the base and the top of the arrangement showcases the character of the material.

In the second arrangement, a quite simple design, the space between the containers is the most important aspect. By letting the space continue also between the materials. The design keeps a strong energy.

Sibirian Dogwood, Ornamental Kale (Brassica), Bouvardia.
More than one container. Line and mass.

Straight Lines - Naturalistic and Abstract

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Salix and Eustoma.
Naturalistic freestyle, straight lines.

Ikebana materials are traditionally arranged in a naturalistic way, showing branches and flowers the way they are naturally growing. The lines of the materials is the most important aspect, determining how to arrange them.

The philosophy of ikebana distinguishes between the nature or outer appearance of plants, and their inner character. This inner character, shussho, of each plant is what the ikebana artist is trying to express. This is true in any style of ikebana. Therefore, bringing out the lines of a material is not only about showing its outer nature, but also and even more so, to express the inner character inherited in the lines.

The Sogetsu school is known for a more abstract style, introduced by the founder Sofu Teshigahara. This approach to ikebana is not based on the natural growth of the materials, but rather on the  abstract shapes and qualities of them, often analysed as geometric shapes. From a Sogetsu point of view, it can be argued that the abstract approach, seeing behind the nature of the plant, is a more effective way of expressing the shussho or inner character. That's also why Sogetsu students always start with the basic styles and naturalistic arranging, before moving on to creating abstract freestyle.

Lilac branch, Salix, Mimosa.
Abstract freestyle, straight lines.

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